WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Songs of innocence

Over the weekend I read a few articles about the Grateful Dead. I guess they’ve finally called it quits or something. I was never a big Deadhead, and even when I give the old Haight-Ashbury gang a spin I don’t see what all the fuss was about. (I think it might have had to do with drugs…)

There’s something powerful about music that gets into your chemistry, though, so I can see why The Dead hit someone else just right. There must be something organic and molecular about music. Maybe it gets your cells all vibrating at the same frequency, but I think it’s also a matter of when you encounter particular music. There’s no reason, for instance, that I should get all choked up over the second movement of Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G more than, say, Schubert’s “Death And The Maiden,” except that I first heard the Ravel at a rehearsal of the London Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 1978. I was the only one sitting in the huge auditorium, having snagged a rehearsal pass as part of an independent project for school, and during a break between the first and second movements the pianist came out to warm up. He ran through the second movement’s haunting lines with what I’d call casual concentration, probably focusing as much on the physical requirements as on the emotional demands of the piece, and though he might not have even known I was out there, I felt as if he were playing to me. When the whole orchestra came out and put his solo into context, I got the shivers. Still do. Every time I hear it.

A few years before that I went to my first rock concert with my best friend, Fred. The Rolling Stones. Exile on Main Street tour. Nosebleed seats, acquired the night before when I heard on the radio a matinée had been added. Only hours after picking up the tickets ($9.50 apiece!) I was sitting with Fred in the balcony watching Keef and Mick and the boys howl their way through “Rocks Off.” Now, I happen to think Exile is one of the best rock albums ever made, if not the best, but sometimes I wonder if that’s because I was experiencing it at the time as my first real taste of rock. Coming of age.

A rainy summer night in 1973. KSHE-95 in St. Louis plays Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, and I sit there on my bed listening to every note while the thunder claps and the lightning lights. It’s embedded in my brain.

London, again. 1979. I’m sun-bathing on the roof of the hostel where I was working at the time when a ramshackle parade goes down the street, with a band playing on a flatbed truck. It’s Elvis Costello and the Attractions doing “Accidents Will Happen” as part of a Rock Against Racism event. Sealed in my gray matter like a bug in amber.

And just recently I heard a song on Spotify that threw me back to the year I moved from St. Louis to San Diego, only — here’s the weird thing — it was a newish song that only resembled an oldie but goodie from 1988. A mood. A mode. But the song’s vibe was close enough to the buried one that my subconscious not only introduced the two but also threw me into a warm nostalgic tearfest. The good kind.

Nothing that’s recorded and released in the present can compete with what I absorbed growing up. Unfair, probably, but I was forming then, and I’m fully formed now. At least in terms of what I hope to get out of a piece of music. Nothing by Arcade Fire will ever get in me like the Richard Thompson songs on “Amnesia.” My first exposure to Beethoven live (the Eroica symphony) when I was sixteen can’t be surpassed. The sexual and sensual effect of a young woman playing the harp in a hotel lobby is primal (“Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring”).

All of these, and many more, are part of my identity. The new may come and go, but it can never transcend, except for the now-young.

If that’s you, enjoy your future past.

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28 comments on “Songs of innocence

  1. pinklightsabre
    July 6, 2015

    Reblogged this on Pinklightsabre's Blog and commented:
    Have a look at this lovely piece by a lovely writer, Kevin Brannan. Here’s to good music, good memories, and our future past.

  2. pinklightsabre
    July 6, 2015

    So we were talking about the Dead, and Exile this past weekend — about all the dead keyboardists (literally), and how they recorded Exile in Paris with Gram Parsons, Dr. John (something about Mick and Keef sleeping with one another’s partners)…wow, what a time. I loved the imagery throughout this post Kevin, had to share with my fellow friends who I think will have similar thoughts and memories triggered, thanks kindly. – Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      Yes, the Exile sessions are something of a modern myth now, like ancient Greeks cavorting in the woods with Pan. I’m sure it was pretty disgusting on occasion!

      • pinklightsabre
        July 6, 2015

        Oh god Kevin I just realized I mis-spelled your name on this reblog thing, I was just aflutter wanting to share it, so sorry. I used to be a journalist and that’s one of those no-no’s, so my apologies. Cheers, – Bill

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 6, 2015

        Ha! It says a lot that I didn’t even notice… No harm done, though.

  3. 1WriteWay
    July 6, 2015

    I’ve never forgiven The Dead for not playing Truckin’ at Winterland. It was ’78 or ’79 and it was the only song I really liked. The acid sucked too.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      LOL. When the acid sucks, you realize what a crappy band they are. 😜 (I confess I did like Truckin’, and Uncle John’s Band. Maybe Sugar Magnolia. Oh hell, maybe U.S. Blues too.)

      • 1WriteWay
        July 7, 2015

        Yeah, the problem with the acid was it probably wasn’t. Bought it off some guy waiting in line and he probably saw a chance to sell two tiny square of film to two obviously gullible kids. I often think how it could have been so much worse … ah, the risks we took back in the day! Also, the Dead had also just come back from trip to Egypt, I think, and so didn’t even play any songs I was familiar with until well into the set. I was, at times, bored. And we had to stand the whole time. Oh, well, it was San Francisco. We were just happy to be there for the most part 😉

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 7, 2015

        We went to a concert at the Fillmore once, and I walked in and went, “Where are all the chairs?!” It felt like a high school dance, for godssakes!

  4. Café Miskatonic
    July 6, 2015

    “Nothing that’s recorded and released in the present can compete with what I absorbed growing up.”

    Oh – so true! But for me, that’s Black Sabbath, RD Burman & Kishor Kumar. Completely different genres – but then that’s the beauty of music. What you enjoy at a specific point of time is directly related to what’s going on in your mind at that time.

    To steal a word from your post – it’s got a lot to do with the mood that you are in.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      Thanks for your comment. It’s almost totally random too, since so much depends on your peer group when you’re of that impressionable age. I’m glad I hung out with freaky geeks. 😉

  5. Phillip McCollum
    July 6, 2015

    Never was a Deadhead myself. Granted, the Dead were before my time, but there’s a lot of music I like before my time. Music really is tied to time and space in an unusual way. I feel the same way about a lot of senses, especially smell. For me, that conjures up memories like no other sense.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      And sometimes smell and music are hanging around together, if you know what I mean… 😉

  6. Dina Honour
    July 6, 2015

    I guess this explains why I still know the words to the entire Grease soundtrack all these years later ;-). Kidding aside, I love the idea of cells vibrating at the same frequency though. I think of being in love the same way.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      Grease? Oh, I’m so sad for you… 😉

      Then there’s the phenomenon of music getting inside you that you don’t want in there! Rocky Mountain hiiiiiiigh, Coloraaaaado. Blecccch!

  7. John W. Howell
    July 6, 2015

    Us oldsters have our moments as well. Not many with the Dead though

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 6, 2015

      Sinatra, perhaps? I find it interesting that I most appreciate jazz from around the time I was born. Before and after that and there’s not the same connection. Strange, eh?

      • John W. Howell
        July 7, 2015

        Yes very. When my age was in high school (beginning in 1955) rock and roll was all we listened to. Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and of course Elvis were rising in popularity. I remember the disapproval of the music by the older generation.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 7, 2015

        Must have been an exciting time, though! All those pioneers…

      • John W. Howell
        July 7, 2015

        Yes it was. Most concerts were up close and personal and the stars actually wanted to meet the fans. I really enjoyed it.

  8. sknicholls
    July 6, 2015

    A different sort of tearjerker. My mama used to play Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass album Whipped Cream and dance around the living room when we we’re little girls. A Taste of Honey. She and my dad would dance to Tangerine after we were put to bed. She died three years after the album was introduced,but it was well worn. The songs I hear from the seventies bring back some memories, but none of them make me cry like Whipped Cream.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 8, 2015

      My God, we had that album too and listened to it ad nauseam. I remember being inexplicably enamored of the girl on the cover (but I was too young to know quite why…).

      Sometimes it’s good to have an emotional experience concentrated around one particular object. That way you can take it out or put it away whenever you want.

  9. Exile on Pain Street
    July 8, 2015

    It’s a fact: we listen to the music of our youth. I never wanted to be the old fart who couldn’t embrace new music but that’s exactly what I’ve become. I don’t like it. But the new stuff leaves me cold. I TRY but it never works. Now…how to explain these snippits of Rush’s 2112 that creep into my consciousnesses without provocation?

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 8, 2015

      I saw a chart recently that showed how people usually bail out on “new” music in their early ’30s. I guess that’s about when I gave up on trying to stay hip to the scene and dusted off my old LPs. That said, I do listen to a lot of new stuff, thanks to streaming, and quite a bit of it does appeal to me. I’m not inclined to buy it, though, and maybe that’s the biggest difference. I used to run out and buy a new record because I wanted to be one of the kool kids, plus I wanted to play it to death.

      Rush, eh? Better than REO Speedwagon, I guess… 😉

      • Exile on Pain Street
        July 8, 2015

        I was in junior high and high school! What was I supposed to listen to?! Ella Fitzgerald? Chinese opera? I had suburban angst and those guys spoke to it.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 8, 2015

        What, you never heard of The Carpenters?! Nothing spoke to my angst like Karen’s teeth.

      • Exile on Pain Street
        July 8, 2015

        The Carpenters did a killer cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Superstar.’ As unlikely a pairing as you’ll ever see.

      • Kevin Brennan
        July 8, 2015

        True. And they managed to erase all signs of Leon (and Delaney & Bonnie, for that matter).

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2015 by in Music and tagged , , .
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